Isabella ran her palm through the maple syrup and spread her fingers open and closed.
“Daddy! Spider webs!”
Patrick looked at the dried syrup strands weaving amongst her fingers and cringed. He stood up and gathered the dishes.
“Did you have any dreams last night, Izzy?” Patrick said from the kitchen sink as he rinsed the plastic silverware and red solo cups.
“I hada dream Grampa died,” Isabella said and licked her fingers.
Patrick dropped a Chinet plate to the floor and it fell face first to conceal a syrupy, chocolatey mess. He looked towards Isabella as he bent down to pick it up.
Isabella continued, “He was alive, and den died. His eyes were like dis.” And she opened her eyes wide and looked as far up to the ceiling as she could, her pupils half moons against her wrinkled forehead.
“Which Grampa was it, Izzy? The one you see when we eat turkey and mashed potatoes, or the one you see when we have Santa Claus?” Patrick wrung his hands as he stood to get a dish rag from the counter.
“The turkey one,” Isabella said, and hopped down from her seat to go play in her room. He could hear the familiar door slam and Wiggles CD start from track eight, which played on repeat: Romp-bomp-a-chomp, romp-bomp-a-chomp, romp-bomp-a-chomp, Dorothy the Dinosaur.
That’s when Patrick remembered to breathe.
“I can’t just ignore this,” he said. He grabbed his cellphone and dialed the preschool, spread raspberry jam and peanut butter on almost-stale Dixie bread, and tried to come up with an excuse about a forgotten doctor’s note or a fever over 101. He settled on the fever, packed up the old Honda civic, and allowed Isabella to dress herself: polka dot dress, Barbie faux-leather jacket, and yellow rain boots.
Patrick’s hometown was six hours away. Five Wiggles CDs, four McDonald’s pit stops, and eighteen games of I-Spy. Patrick remembered the long drives from his mountainous neighborhood to the Outer Banks when he was younger. His dad had always been the master of I-Spy. Patrick was always sure he had cheated, but when Patrick gave up, his dad pointed to the mystery object that was right there in plain sight. “Gotcha!” he’d say, and Patrick would try to trick him in return, but he never could. Patrick’s dad was the kind of guy who would be able to handle being a single father. He wouldn’t burn chicken nuggets or mess up a pile of sheets that was supposed to be an underground fortress. He wouldn’t fantasize about taking the Wiggles CD and microwaving it while his daughter slept. He would be able to trick her in I-Spy. He would know how to do this.
One of mine…